Egyptians have started casting their ballots in the first parliamentary elections since former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising earlier this year.
Long queues were seen outside many polling stations amid tight security arrangements as voters flocked to the polls on Monday morning.
Many Egyptians remained worried that there may be outbreaks of violence at polling stations, while others have been concerned that the nation remains polarised over the choice of candidates.
In some parts of the country, there were several logistical problems, and polling stations had not opened more than an hour after the time scheduled, as ballot papers and the ink used to mark voters’ fingers had not arrived .
“The two problems are this, one ballot papers arriving very late, secondly, judges are arriving very late [and] some not even turning up,” Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reporting from Cairo’s densely populated Shubra district said
Additionally, ban on campaigning at polling stations has been broken, with members of parties handing out pamphlets and banners.
However, Tadros added: “This is a pretty great atmosphere. I really have not seen this kind of voter turnout.”
‘Democracy in action’
Amr Moussa, Egyptian presidential candidate, stressed that there is a real appetite for democracy in Egypt.
“This is the beginning of a new era in Egypt, democracy in action. Not in theory, but in action,” Moussa told reporters.
Some polling stations are gender segregated, with men and women standing in separate lines to cast their vote.
Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh reporting from Assiut in upper Egypt said: “There has been a very high turnout here.”
Voters on Monday are choosing 168 of the 498 deputies, which will form the new lower house of parliament.
In this round, some of Egypt’s most populous areas will vote including Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Port Said and Luxor.Over 50 political parties are contesting the elections, along with thousands of candidates running as independents.
But the preparations have been marred by a new wave of demonstrations, as protesters occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand the military council that replaced Mubarak hand power to a civilian government.
Egypt’s military ruler has warned of “extremely grave” consequences if the country does not pull through its current crisis.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who heads the governing Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), claimed on Sunday that “foreign hands” were behind the current turmoil.
In comments carried by the nation’s official news agency, Tantawi rejected calls for the SCAF’s leadership to step down immediately. Demonstrators had called for their replacement by a “national salvation” government to run the country’s affairs until a president is elected.
Tantawi instead promised the creation of a 50-member advisory council that would advise the SCAF.
At least 41 protesters have been killed in nine days of clashes across Egypt and more than 2,000 have been wounded.
The military took power when Mubarak was toppled. It has come under intense criticism for most of the past nine months for its failure to restore security, stop the rapid worsening of the economy or introduce the far-reaching reforms called for by the youth groups behind Mubarak’s fall and the ongoing protest movement.
“SCAF at the moment is the spinal cord of Egypt and they are leading the transitional process, there are other people in Egypt that do not support what Tahrir thinks.” Emad Mohsen, a member of the so-called silent majority group and former information minister, told Al Jazeera.
Tantawi said the military will follow through with its road map for handing over power.
The SCAF never set a precise date for transferring authority to an elected civilian administration, only pledging that presidential elections, the last step in the handover process, will be held before the end of June, 2012.
“We will not allow troublemakers to meddle in the elections,” Tantawi said on Sunday.
He added: “Egypt is at a crossroads; either we succeed politically, economically and socially or the consequences will be extremely grave and we will not allow that. None of this would have happened if there were no foreign hands.”
Apparently alluding to the protesters in Tahrir Square, Tantawi said: “We will not allow a small minority of people who don’t understand to harm Egypt’s stability.”
Tantawi’s assertion is similar to those made by Mubarak in his final days in power. Tantawi was Mubarak’s defence minister for 20 years.
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